FYI, there are fewer new Ford Flex SUVs still available for sale than I had initially expected, although dozens are spread across most of the country. This means anyone wanting to get their hands on a new example of this wholly unique three-row crossover utility needs to act quickly, because dealer-level discounts will be deep, plus according to CarCostCanada, Ford is offering up to $5,500 in additional incentives for this final 2019 model.
Yes, the unconventional Flex is being ushered off the stage after more than a decade of service and only a couple of years of reasonably good sales. Its first calendar year of 2009 resulted in 6,047 units down Canadian roads, and the next 12 months (2010) was good for 4,803 deliveries, but it saw lacklustre sales performance after that, with a high of just 3,268 units in 2012 and 1,789 in 2015. Strangely, year-over-year Flex sales picked up by 13.4 percent from 2017 to 2018 and 9.6 percent in 2019, so there’s still interest in this wonderfully unusual family hauler, but nevertheless its days were done as soon as the revitalized fifth-generation Explorer came on the scene in 2011 (hence the Flex’s immediate drop-off in sales that year).
For a bit of background, both the Flex and Explorer share a unibody structure based on Ford’s D4 platform architecture, which is a modified version of the original Volvo S80/XC90-sourced D3 platform. Looking back a bit further, the first D3 to wear the blue-oval was Ford’s rather bland Five Hundred sedan that quickly morphed into today’s Taurus (or should I say, yesterday’s Taurus, as it was recently discontinued as well, and therefore also benefits from up to $5,500 in additional incentives as per CarCostCanada). The Flex’s familial lineage harks back to the 2005–2007 Freestyle that was rebadged as the ill-named Taurus X for 2008–2009.
The just noted people movers don’t get much respect anymore, yet they were comfortable, nicely sized, reasonably agile, and quite innovative for their era. Each was amongst the first domestics to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the Five Hundred and Freestyle were certainly some of the largest vehicles to do so before that point (the Nissan Murano beat them by a couple of years). Interestingly Ford soon abandoned the CVT for its large vehicle lineup, choosing a six-speed automatic for all Flex and fifth-gen Explorer model years, which has proven to be a reliable transmission.
Now that we’re talking mechanicals, the Flex received two different versions of Ford’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 when introduced, which still carry through to today’s model. While the base Duratec engine made 262 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque from onset, output grew to 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque in 2013, which moved the three-row seven-occupant SUV along at a decent clip. A 355 horsepower 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 making 350 lb-ft of torque became optional in 2010, and that turbocharged mill transformed the somewhat sedate five-door estate wagon into a rarified sleeper, while another 10-hp bump to 365 made it one of the most potent family conveyances available from a mainstream volume brand right up to this day.
That’s the version to acquire and once again the configuration I recently spent a week with, and it performed as brilliantly as it did when I first tested a similarly equipped Flex in 2016. I noticed a bit of front wheel twist when pushed hard off the line at full throttle, otherwise called torque steer, particularly when taking off from a corner, which is strange for an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it moved along quickly and was wonderfully stable on the highway, not to mention long sweeping corners and even when flung through sharp fast-paced curves thanks to its fully independent suspension setup and big, meaty 255/45R20 all-season rubber. I wouldn’t say it’s as tight as a premium SUV like Acura’s MDX, Audi’s Q7 or BMW’s X7, but we really can’t compare those three from a price perspective. Such was the original goal of the now defunct Lincoln MKT, but its styling never took off and therefore it was really only used for airport shuttle and limousine liveries.
Like the MKT and the many three-row Japanese and European crossover utilities available, the Flex is a very large vehicle, so no one should be expecting sports car-like performance. Combined with its turbo-six powerplant is the dependable SelectShift six-speed automatic mentioned earlier, and while not as advanced as the 7-, 8-, 9- and now even 10-speed automatics coming from the latest blue-oval, Lincoln and competitive products, it shifts quickly enough and is certainly smooth, plus it doesn’t hamper fuel economy as terribly as various brands’ marketing departments would have you believe. I love that Ford included paddle shifters with this big ute, something even some premium-branded three-row crossovers are devoid of yet standard with the more powerful engine (they replace the lesser engine’s “Shifter Button Activation” on the gear knob), yet the Flex is hardly short on features, especially in its top-tier Limited model.
I’d recommend leaving manual mode alone if you want to achieve the best fuel economy, however, but even the most potent V6 on the Flex menu does reasonably well at 15.7 L/100km city, 11.2 highway and 13.7 combined, at least when compared to similarly powered SUVs. It’s not much worse than the base engine either, with the AWD version going through an estimated 14.7 L/100km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.9 combined, and the FWD model slurping back 14.7 city, 10.2 highway and 12.7 combined.
The Flex continues to be available in base SE, mid-range SEL and top-level Limited trim lines for the 2019 model year, with the majority still not spoken for being SELs (but don’t worry, there are plenty of SE and Limited models still around too). According to CarCostCanada, where you can find all pricing and feature information about most vehicles sold into the Canadian market, the Flex starts at $32,649 (plus freight and fees) for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD), $39,649 for the SEL with FWD, $41,649 for the SEL with AWD, and $46,449 for the Limited that comes standard with AWD. All trim lines include the base engine, but for an additional $6,800 those opting for the Limited model can access the more formidable turbo-V6 (take note that other features are thrown in for this price too).
This means, for a retail price of $53,249 before adding any other features, you get a 2019 Flex Limited Ecoboost AWD that comes well equipped with all of the performance upgrades mentioned plus standard 19-inch silver-painted alloys on 235/55 all-season tires, HID headlights, fog lamps, LED taillights, a satin-aluminum grille, chromed exterior door handles, stainless steel bright beltline mouldings, a satin aluminum liftgate appliqué, a powered liftgate, bright dual exhaust tips, power-folding heatable side mirrors with memory feature and security approach lights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse parking sensors, and that’s only on the outside.
You can use remote engine start to warm things up or cool them down before even entering the Flex Limited, plus proximity-sensing access (or Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keypad) to get inside, pushbutton ignition to keep things running, Ford MyKey to keep things secure when valets or your kids are at the wheel, while additional interior features include illuminated entry with theatre dimming lighting, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel rim with a genuine hardwood inlay, Yoho maple wood grain appearance appliqués, power-adjustable foot pedals with memory, perforated leather upholstery on the first- and second-row seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with memory, a six-way powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, ambient interior lighting with seven colours including default Ice Blue plus soft blue, blue, green, purple, orange and red, plus Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, a great sounding 12-speaker Sony audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, dual USB charging ports (in the front console bin), dual-zone automatic climate control, rear manual HVAC controls, four 12-volt power points, a 110-volt household-style three-prong power outlet, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, and more.
For such an old vehicle the Flex appears right up to date when it comes to electronics due to its Cockpit Integrated Display that houses two bright, colour, high-resolution TFT displays within the primary gauge cluster (it was way ahead of its time) while the just noted Sync 3 infotainment system is nothing to sneeze at either, thanks to a large graphically stimulating and highly functional touchscreen with ultra-fast capability and excellent usability, the functions including extremely accurate optional navigation and a very good standard backup camera with active guidelines (but an overhead 360-degree surround view camera is not available), plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the ability to add more apps, plus much more.
Over and above the list of standard Limited features it’s possible to add a $3,200 301A package that includes a heatable steering wheel rim, really comfortable 10-way powered front seats with three-way ventilation, adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning with autonomous emergency braking, and Active Park Assist semi-autonomous parking capability, but take note that all 301A features already come standard with the more potent engine, as does a unique set of 20-inch polished alloys, an engine block heater, a power-adjustable steering column, and a one-touch 50/50-split power-folding third row with tailgate seating.
You might have noticed that my tester’s wheels are hardly polished alloys, or at least they’re not silver, the glossy black 20-inch rims included as part of a $900 Appearance package that also adds a gloss-black exterior treatment to the centre grille bar, side mirror caps, and liftgate appliqué, plus Agate Black paint to the roof pillars and rooftop, while the interior gets a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel with Meteorite Black bezels, an exclusive graphic design on the instrument panel and door-trim appliqués, special leather seat upholstery with Light Earth Gray inserts and Dark Earth Gray bolsters, and floor mats with unique logo.
My tester’s multi-panel Vista panoramic sunroof has always been a standalone option for $1,750, while it’s still strange to see its voice-activated navigation system (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) as an individual add-on (nav systems are almost always bundled into top-tier models), while the glossy black roof rails can also be individually added for only $130, but take note you can get the roof rails (also in silver) as part of a $600 Cargo Versatility package that also combines the otherwise $500 Class III Trailer Tow package (good for up to 4,500 lbs or 2,041 kilos of trailer weight) with first- and second-row all-weather floor mats (otherwise a $150 standalone option) for a much more utile SUV.
Now that I’ve listed everything available with my tester, you can also add a refrigerated centre console for $650, or upgrade the otherwise 60/40-split second row bench seat to captain’s chairs with a centre console for just $150 (although I prefer the standard bench seat because its 40-percent section auto-folds from the rear in all trims), while $250 inflatable second-row seatbelts improve rear passenger safety, and a dual-screen rear entertainment system will add $2,100 to the bottom line.
Now that I’ve covered all of the Limited trim’s features, many of which are pulled up from base SE and mid-range SEL trims, it’s important to mention that the Flex cabin isn’t quite as refined as what you might find in the new 2020 Explorer, for instance. This said, I remember how blown away I was with its refinement when it came out, which just goes to show how far Ford and all other carmakers have come since 2009. The new Edge, for instance, which I recently tested in top-line trim, is probably better than the older Lincoln MKX, now replaced by the impressive Nautilus, whereas this Flex’s interior is a lot like the previous Edge inside.
It gets the big, clunky, hard plastic rocker switches for the powered locks instead of the more sophisticated electronic buttons, and certainly has a lower grade of hard composites throughout the interior than more recently redesigned Ford SUVs. Then again its dash-top features a nice soft-touch surface treatment, as do the door uppers front to back, while the door inserts get the cool graphic inserts noted earlier along with nice, large padded armrests.
All said, interior space might possibly be this SUV’s most noteworthy attribute, the Flex getting its name for its combination of minivan-like seating and cargo storage capability. First, let’s get real about overall space. The Flex’s maximum load carrying capacity of 2,355 litres (83.1 cubic feet) when both rear rows are folded flat pales in comparison to the old Ford Freestar minivan’s 3,885 litres (137.2 cu ft) of total cargo volume, but it’s good as far as three-row SUVs go. The Flex provides 42 more litres (1.5 cu ft) of maximum storage than the old 2019 Explorer, for instance, which is one of the largest SUVs in its class. Then again, the 2020 Explorer manages a maximum of 2,486 litres (87.8 cu ft) with its two rear rows folded, which beats both older utes.
The rear hatch powers open to expose 426 litres (15.0 cu ft) of dedicated cargo space behind the third row, which is actually 169 litres (6.0 cu ft) shy of the outgoing Explorer, but drop the second row down and the Flex almost matches the Explorer’s available capacity perfectly with 1,224 litres (43.2 cu ft) compared to 1,240 litres (43.8 cu ft). A handy feature mentioned earlier allows the third row to be folded in the opposite direction for tailgate parties, but you’ll need to make sure the headrests are extended as they might uncomfortable otherwise.
Total passenger volume is 4,412 litres (155.8 cu ft), which means every seating position is roomy and comfortable. Really, even third row legroom is good, while headroom is generous due to a tall roofline and the Flex’s width makes sure no one feels claustrophobic. The open-airiness of the panoramic sunroof really helps in this respect too, and its three-pane design is also smart because it provides the structural rigidity such a large vehicle like this needs. Thoughtful features I really like include the massive bottle holders in the rear door panels, which are really useful for drive-thru excursions, especially considering the grippy cupholders in the centre armrest are a bit on the small side.
As you can probably tell, I have a soft spot for this unorthodox box of an SUV, and appreciate Ford for having the courage to build it in the first place. While it’s old and feels a bit dated inside especially, plus is missing some features I’d appreciate having such as rear outboard seat heaters and USB ports in the back, it’s hard to knock its value proposition when factoring in the potential savings. Of course, choosing this old SUV when it’s parked next to a new 2020 Explorer will be difficult, but a similarly equipped version of the latter SUV will set you back another $10k before the aforementioned discount, while Ford is only offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on this newer vehicle (which is still pretty impressive). That’s a difference of more than $13k, so therefore choosing a fully loaded Flex might be ideal for those on more of a luxury budget.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak I would have recommended rushing to your dealer in order to make sure you get one of the last remaining new Flex SUVs before they’re all gone, and while they will certainly disappear in due time you’ll probably need to deal with your Ford retailer digitally these days. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do your homework first before making the call, so be sure to visit the 2019 Ford Flex Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada, where you can check out all the trims and pricing, plus see if there have been any updates regarding manufacturer discounts, rebates and/or financing/leasing packages, while a membership to CarCostCanada will also provide otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer actually pays the manufacturer), which will give you the best chance possible to negotiate a great deal. Your Ford retailer will have your Flex prepared (while wearing hazmat suits, masks and gloves no doubt), after which you can simply pick it up at your convenience.
So if this oddball SUV is as special to you as it is to me, I recommend taking advantage of the great model ending deals to be had. It might be an old entry amongst a plethora of seemingly more enticing new offerings, but keep in mind that its moderate popularity means that it’s remained fairly fresh despite its years (you won’t see many driving around the corner toward you or parked beside you at the mall), while its decade of availability and well-proven mechanicals make certain that reliability will be better average.